It may surprise younger readers to learn that there was a time when the tables were turned; a time when DC was running the most profitable cinematic universe onscreen. It started with Richard Donner‘s 1978 Superman, considered the first superhero blockbuster. The film’s tagline promised audiences that “[they] will believe a man could fly.” Prior to Donner’s film, superheroes had been relegated to shorts running before the feature, farce, and so-bad-they’re-good TV adaptations. Those adaptations were Marvel productions. DC’s Superman was not only the first superhero, but the first realization for Hollywood that some fidelity to the source material may actually turn a profit.
And so they set about bringing DC’s other major player to the screen. Ideas and scripts for a Batman film were shooting around Warner Bros. as early as 1979, when producer Jon Peters joined the project. Kevin Smith has detailed the extreme eccentricity and shallowness that make up Peters’ persona – he once commissioned a Superman film in which he didn’t fly or wear a suit, but did fight a giant spider – but it was his crazy, guiding hand that finally led us to the first dark, gritty superhero film. 1989’s Batman was a huge success, though it had a long, complicated journey to the screen.
Batman Returns, also directed by Tim Burton, was more in line with his vision than any comic, though it still managed to be a hit. It was at that point, however, that Warner Bros. wanted to shift directions – preferably away from Burton’s darkness and into Joel Schumacher‘s light-as-air neon vision. Things only got stranger behind the scenes from there.
There’s so much history, so many arguments, and replacements, and fan debates behind these four films that its hard to keep track of. Here’s a just a few of the more fascinating things about the Dark Knight’s first few film outings.
15. Billy Dee Williams Was Promised Two Face
When Billy Dee Williams appeared in Batman as District Attorney Harvey Dent, he thought he signed up for a multi-picture job. Burton had chosen Williams because he wanted the light and dark of Two-Face’s personality to be extremely literally, and casting an African American would allow that in a hey-it-was-the-late-80s-so-it’s-not-racist way. In fact, Two Face did appear in drafts of Batman Returns when it was still only known as Batman II. It was Dent, not original creation Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), who was to suffer a tazer to the face from Catwoman at the end of the film – which would have caused his burn scar. Screenwriter Daniel Waters toyed with the idea of the film ending with Two Face flipping a coin, but it landing on the good side, meaning you had to wait until the next film.
14. Robin Was Meant To Be In Batman Returns
At one point or another, Robin was a part of every Batplay. Waters referred to Robin as a lot of fans have in the past: “The most worthless character in the world, especially with [Batman as] the loner of loners.” Nevertheless, screenwriters toyed with different ways they could bring him in.
In one version, he was a teen gang leader. In another, he was an African American mechanic. The notion of changing Robin’s ethnicity was one that stuck around right up until Chris O’Donnell‘s casting. Prior to that, Marlon Wayans was the favourite for the role.
13. Michael Keaton Was Hated When Announced
Both Burton and Keaton were no fan’s first choice to bring their favourite character to life. A lot of the backlash from the announcements were due only to timing. Michael Keaton, though he’d taken many serious roles, had spent much of the 80s doing stand-up and had just come off romantic comedies like Mr. Mom, Johnny Dangerously, and Beetlejuice. Burton had just directed the latter, but was also known for Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. From their resumes, it would sound to fans like they were better suited to the campy 1960s Adam West show than something more loyal to readers. It was actually Jon Peters who suggested Keaton, who he’d spotted in Clean and Sober and noted his ability to convey inner-turmoil – something inherent to Bruce Wayne. Hey, sometimes the crazy guy who wants a giant spider fight has a good idea.
12. Casting Before Burton Was All Much More High Profile
Along with Tim Burton came some names familiar with the director, including the late Michael Gough as Alfred. Prior to Burton’s hiring, working from a script from Tom Mankiewicz, producers began dreamcasting. And they aimed high. For Alfred, they sought actor David Niven (aka the world’s classiest man). For Commissioner Gordon, in a bit of brilliant casting that would have worked beautifully, William Holden. And for The Penguin, who Mankiewicz re-imagined as a gangster with an exceptionally low body temperature, they wanted Peter O’Toole. There’s no word on how far they went seeking these actors out (two of them were dead by 1983), but it would have been one hell of a showcase. And we haven’t even gotten who they wanted for Batman…
11. They Wanted Bill Murray
Well, not just Bill Murray. While Mankiewicz’ draft was passed through directors, it fell into the lap of Ivan Reitman. Reitman’s first choice was Murray, who was certainly always on the look out for more dramatic work, so it was a distinct possibility. Nine rewrites happened, and countless other directors followed, but the Mankiewicz script was still used as a guiding principle in casting and development. Other names that came up were Mel Gibson, Dennis Quaid, Charlie Sheen, and Ray Liotta.
10. Carl Grissom Was Originally Rupert Thorne
Mankiewicz’ script had two villains, the Joker and crime boss Rupert Thorne (with a cameo appearance from The Penguin). Thorne, in the script, was meant to hire Joe Chill to kill Bruce Wayne’s father Thomas – who opposed Thorne on the city council. His appearance would also introduce Wayne’s love interest, Silver St. Cloud, who would work for Thorne. When Sam Hamm was handed the script and asked to rewrite it, he replaced Thorne with Jack Palance’s Carl Grissom and simplified the role, which left no room for St. Cloud, who he replaced with Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger).
9. Alexander Knox Died In The Script
One of the stranger additions in Batman is Vicki Vale’s comic-relief sidekick Alexander Knox. Knox, as played by 80s stand up comic Robert Wuhl, is a surprisingly welcome original character that fits nicely within Gotham – a sarcastic, hard-hitting journalist who is the first to believe in Batman. He’s also not-so-quietly in love with Vale, who he consistently strikes out with in favour of Bruce Wayne. He’s mostly played for laughs in film, but his arc has all the obvious, pitiful tragedy of something out of a Jeph Loeb-era Batcomic. Originally, Knox died trying to protect people during the Joker’s poison gas attack. It happens in the movie, he flies off the hood of a car, blood covering his forehead. However, producers liked him enough to give him a final line in the last scene – bandaid on his head.
8. Annette Bening Was Set To Be Catwoman
Before Michelle Pfeiffer took the role, Burton had been impressed by and cast another actress. In The Grifters, the film that convinced the director she’d be perfect for the role, Annette Bening played a sexpot vixen of a conwoman who uses her body as just another weapon in her quest for money. In a way, the transition to Catwoman is entirely logical – both are dangerous roles for an independent woman with their own personal motive. Unfortunately, Bening had to back out of the physically demanding role when she got pregnant. The opening left room for plenty of insane, well-documented Sean Young stalking stories (she was originally cast as Vicki Vale in the first film, but had to back out, only to show up on the set of Batman Returns in her homemade Catsuit, leading Burton to hide in his trailer). Other actresses considered included Raquel Welch, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Madonna, Ellen Barkin, Cher, and Bridget Fonda.
7. Tim Burton Really Wanted Brad Dourif Involved Somewhere (Anywhere)
Reading over what information is known to the public today, it becomes abundantly clear that part of Burton’s mission statement was to somehow, someday, somewhere, stick Brad Dourif in a Batman movie. In the early stage of casting the Joker, Burton fought for the actor, but the studio steadfastly refused. At the time, Robin Williams was lobbying hard for the part. David Bowie and James Woods were also considered. Jack Nicholson was creator Bob Kane’s first choice.
Later, when it came time to look past Batman Returns, Burton again wanted Dourif for the role of Scarecrow. It was at this point, as well as the studio generally wanting to get away from Burton’s dark take on the character, that Burton was asked to step down and take a producing role.
6. Tommy Lee Jones HATED Working With Jim Carrey
While the tone of Joel Schumacher’s first entry in the Batseries was undeniably lighter and more agreeably pleasant and…neon, the set must have been a hellscape. Keaton left because he didn’t like the direction the films were taking so Val Kilmer, who took the role without reading the script, stepped in to the suit. Reportedly, Kilmer was a primadonna and a child onset. After Schumacher chided him for treating the crew poorly, the actor refused to speak to him for two weeks.
According to Schumacher, the only person onset who acted like a professional and a gentleman was Jim Carrey, who once approached his co-star Tommy Lee Jones in a restaurant to tell him how excited he was to work with him. Jones hugged him, and said plainly, “I hate you, I really don’t like you. I cannot sanction your buffoonery.”
Jones had only taken the role after his son asked him to do so, and from that night on he appeared to have no interest in working with anyone on set. For the record, Googling “Tommy Lee Jones is a jerk” will bring up countless similar stories.
5. Both Michael Jackson And Robin Williams Lobbied Hard For The Riddler
Robin Williams always wanted to be a part of the franchise, beginning with his campaign for the role of the Joker. When the Riddler was announced as one of the next villains to be used in Forever, he pushed again for the role. Both seem perfectly attuned to Williams persona – comically unpredictable with a hint of either menace or deep pathos creeping just behind the facade. However, 1995 had seen the advent of another multi-faceted comedian with a rubber face and bombastic persona. Jim Carrey was the favourite. However, always wanting to appeal to children, another unexpected name threw his hat in the ring: Michael Jackson. No one knows how seriously producers considered Jackson’s offer – his acting experience was next to nil – but it thankfully never happened.
4. We Were Spared A Bono Cameo
Whatever your feelings are on Schumacher’s light-hearted take on Batman, Forever‘s soundtrack was a major success – almost selling as many copies as Prince‘s work for the first film. Though only five songs on the album actually appear in the movie, both Seal‘s “Kiss From A Rose” (the music video for which was directed by Schumacher) and U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” won MTV Movie Awards. Seal took home three Grammys.
So with synergy being the way it is, there was naturally talk of the artists actually appearing in the film. Bono already had a kind of villain character from his Zoo tour – a parody of Mephistopheles called MacPhisto. Like a lot of Bono’s ideas, he was insufferable. That didn’t stop Schumacher and Bono trying to find ways to work him into the film. Thankfully, in a rare show of restraint from Bono, both agreed it was inappropriate.
3. H.R. Giger Pitched a Design for the Batmobile
H.R. Giger is the famous Swiss surrealist known for his designs for the creature in Alien, his work for a never-filmed Dune adaptation, and Species. For Batman Forever, he turned in drawings for a Batmobile. Unsurprisingly, they were rejected. The contraption was an X-shaped nightmare machine, complete with mandibles and frighteningly organic-looking intake ports. If Batman’s real intention is to strike fear into the hearts of criminals, he probably would have approved of Giger’s car monster. Obviously, it didn’t blend in with Schumacher’s lighter tone and he instead opted for a neon-glowing update of Burton’s car.
2. Joel Schumacher Knows Batman And Robin Is Crap
When Schumacher was first brought into the franchise, he wanted to adapt Frank Miller’s Year One, which follows the Dark Knight in his early days, still training and trying to develop the things that would ultimately define the Batman. Producers nixed the idea, wanting a sequel and not a prequel. After Forever, he revisited the concept, planning to cast Kurt Russell as a young Commissioner Gordon.
The studio was against the idea. As Schumacher put it, they just wanted to make it more “toyetic.” It’s as if, since they wouldn’t let him go dark, Schumacher decided to embrace the camp of the 60s TV show whole-heartedly. John Glover, who played Dr. Jason Woodrue in the film, said that the director would sit on a crane and before each take, shout into the megaphone, “Remember, everyone, this is a cartoon.”
Since then, both Schumacher and star George Clooney have apologized to fans for the movie.
1. George Clooney Totally Peed In That Costume
There’s so much wrong with Batman and Robin, and most of it has been well-documented: bat-nipples, bat-credit cards, Arnold Schwarzennegger‘s 27 – count ’em: 27 – ice puns, and the list goes on. Clooney famously quipped when shooting wrapped, “I think we just killed the franchise.” And, for nearly a decade, he was right.
Clooney didn’t take the role very seriously. When not shooting, he would visit his friends on ER. The only problem was that the suit took so much time to take off, he often just walked over to the set still wearing it. Problems with taking off the suit led to more personal issues. Eventually, Clooney decided to hell with changing. It was too inconvenient. So he peed in it. More than once. Like an astronaut.